Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Ten more ways to get involved in space without leaving Earth

This post follows on from Ten Ways to Get Involved in Space Without Leaving Earth. When I started to put this list together, it turned out there were SO many more things you could do from the safety of terrestrial gravity and atmosphere! Some of these are also very compatible with Covid-19 isolation. So here are the next ten for your delight and edification.

11. Contemplate the Moon
Could anything be more simple than this? There is even a special night for it! International Observe the Moon Night is on September 26 every year. But you can do this one any time of year, any time of day or night. Just look up. Perhaps there will be a white crescent against a blue sky; perhaps a full disc glowing in the night. Just look, and think or feel whatever you want.

12. Experience weightlessness
Ever wanted to know what it was like to be freefall, without having to pay a cool 65 million dollars to go the International Space Station, or even $5000 to go on the Vomit Comet? Hell, you could even do it without any vomit at all! All you have to do is locate your nearest amusement park and find the drop tower. Dreamworld in Queensland has one that's 119 m tall and gives you 5 seconds of freefall. That may not seem like much reading it on a page, but believe me, you will really feel it! The tallest drop tower is the Lex Luthor Drop of Doom in the Six Flags Magic Mountain park in California (120 m).

13. Visit another world through words.
To be transported to another world, all you need to do is read. There are some wonderful books which make you feel immersed in the environments of another planet. One of my favourites is CS Lewis' Voyage to Venus. Sure, it's based on outdated science (Venus is a warm waterworld in this novel), but it truly makes you feel the sensory experience of skies, waters, plants that are alien and yet speak to some deep human dream.

It would be great to put together an anthology of space environmental writing - passages or short stories which really evoke otherworldly places. Science fiction readers will no doubt have plenty of their own favourite examples, but others might appreciate some pointers. It's not like I need more projects at the moment, but oh this one would be so much fun to do!

14. Watch space films
So much choice here! Settle down with an action adventure, a thriller, a documentary, a romantic comedy. OK, so there don't seem to be many romantic comedies set in space, but did you know, for example, that Notting Hill features scenes on board a space station? And soon, it seems we might have a new one actually filmed in space. NASA has confirmed that it's working with Tom Cruise to make a movie on the International Space Station.

Some of my favourite space films are Christopher Riley's First Orbit, the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, the space mining drama Moon [NB this link has spoilers], and First Man, which I reviewed here.
Aelita, Queen of Mars (1924)

Then there are the vintage classics, many of which you can watch on YouTube. My picks are Forbidden Planet, Aelita Queen of Mars, Frau im Mond, Cat Women of the Moon, and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Night of the Living Dead, the original zombie apocalypse film, involves both space (the origin of the zombie plague) and contagion, so it's very appropriate isolation viewing. It holds up much better than you might imagine.

It's always good to have a laugh about the cheesy plots and clunky pre-CGI special effects, not to mention the notions of what the future was going to be like; but many of these vintage films are also quite insightful and raise issues which are very relevant to contemporary issues in space travel and ethics.

15. Best of the best of space on You Tube
One of the best things on Space YouTube is actual live astronauts demonstrating how things work in microgravity. US astronaut Don Pettit was fantastic. He made a series of videos demonstrating how to do basic tasks in microgravity, which you can watch here. Chris Hadfield has also made a number of excellent videos - of course, one of his most popular was playing David Bowie's Space Oddity on his guitar, which became an instant cult classic! You could start with these astronauts, but there is a wealth of material on YouTube and NASA's channel to delight in.

16. Social media space
Getting involved in space is as simple as finding some topic, organisation or person you like, and following them on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, or whatever platform works for you. As well as getting to know the community, you can talk to people, ask questions, or contribute your own thoughts. I've met many lovely people through these encounters! I'm not going to recommend anything here as there is so much, and you will do better to look for the thing that interests you the most.

Why not start your own social media account, or even blog, devoted to the space things you like best? You don't have to be an expert (although it helps not to spread misinformation - please fact check carefully!). And remember it doesn't have to be about hard core science or engineering: perhaps you like space poetry (I know I do), or vintage space-age teacups (another of my favourites). Sharing things you love with other people who love them too is one of the most enjoyable aspects of social media.

17. Support a crowd-funded project
Amateurs have been the mainstay of space since the rocket societies of the 1930s, and have been launching and tracking their own satellites since the 1960s. I'm a huge fan of citizen or community science. We don't have to leave space to the big boys (I say that deliberately). You might not have space or rocket expertise yourself, but you can support those who do and feel part of a project. Of course, it's best to be prepared for disappointment - your chosen project may not make it into space or even get off the ground. For me, it's the participation that is the important thing.

Here's a lists of space projects currently listed on Kickstarter:

Perhaps you have a space project that you would like to resource using crowd-funding! This might be a good place to start:

18. Invite someone to give a talk to your group
In the Covid-19 era, in-person talks have been replaced by Zoom events. These are great as they allow for remote participation, even people from other countries! They reduce costs and allow people who are not able to easily move about or leave the house the opportunity to participate.

Be conscious that people are often asked to give enormous amounts of their time for free, so it's best to have a budget for a speaker - even if the talk is online. Academics and space professionals are often expected to do some public outreach as part of their job, so this is far more critical for freelancers, those without a full-time job, or those for whom public outreach is not part of their job. I'm not saying don't ask if you don't have a budget, just be aware.

19. Attend a conference
Although conferences are usually academic or industry events, if you are able to pay the registration fee there is no reason you can't attend a space conference. You can hear all the talks, meet the people, and feel part of a community. In Australia, the annual space conference is the Australian Space Research Conference, usually held in September-October.

SpaceUps are wonderful 'unconferences' which you can find all over the world. The unconference format is driven by the participants: when you arrive there is usually a big board or wall where people offer talks or workshops, or ask for talks or workshops they would like. It all happens organically on the day. Usually there will be a couple of invited speakers as well.

Of course, the Covid-19 world has meant that many conferences are being run entirely online. This radically reduces the cost of travel and accommodation and all those other incidentals you incur if a conference is not in your home town. Participation has never been easier! The down side is that you don't get to meet and know people in the same way and you need a good internet connection which not everyone has.

20. Download a space app
Space is only as far away as your smartphone or device! There are so many good things out there. Here are a few that I fancy.
What you see with Stellarium

Stellarium: point your phone at the sky, and this app will tell you all the constellations, stars, planets and space stations that are in the sky above you!

Fireballs in the Sky: this is a community science that allows you to contribute your sightings of meteors, fireballs and space junk to a scientific project.

Deluxe Moon: all things Moon including gardening advice. It's got astrology information too, if that is your bag.

Want to photograph the Moon or other night sky features? These apps will help!

So there you have it. No excuses to languish on Earth when there are so many ways to leave the planet without a rocket!